North Carolina’s frontcourt situation remains in flux while Tony Bradley continues to weigh whether he’ll enter the NBA draft, but the Tar Heels added some depth – and some size – on Friday night when they secured a commitment from Garrison Brooks, a 6-10, 230-pound power forward from Auburn, Ala.
Inside Carolina was first to report Brooks’ commitment. Brooks’ decision to commit to UNC is important for the Tar Heels for two primary reasons: one, he plays a position of need, given UNC’s questionable depth on the interior entering next season. Second, he’s something of a backup plan – albeit not nearly as heralded of one – if Bradley decides to pursue a professional career.
If he returns, Bradley, the 6-11 center, would undoubtedly be the centerpiece of the Tar Heels’ offense on the interior. For as long as UNC coach Roy Williams has been a head coach, he has employed a familiar inside-out philosophy, one dependent on reliable offensive contributions in the low post.
Williams’ best teams at UNC, and at Kansas, for that matter, have relied upon such consistent big men. Forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, for instance, helped lead the Tar Heels to the national championship earlier this month. In 2009, Tyler Hansbrough did the same and in 2005, so did Sean May. All four of those players were traditional, back-to-the-basket post players.
Bradley is in the same mold, though if he were to leave, UNC would be left frighteningly thin in the frontcourt. Luke Maye, the 6-8 forward, can play in the post, but he’s more of a stretch-power forward, one capable of playing on the perimeter and knocking down the occasional 3-pointer or long two (just ask Kentucky).
Outside of Maye, UNC would return no other post player with any college experience if Bradley were to leave. Williams and his staff did sign Brandon Huffman, a 6-9 forward from Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, and Sterling Manley, a 6-10 forward from Pickerington, Ohio. Neither is ranked among the top 150 prospects in the class of 2017.
Recruiting rankings sometimes miss. Sometimes, players under-perform relative to their ranking, or over-perform. Even so, neither Huffman nor Manley will arrive in college with a high school pedigree that suggests the transition will be easy, or even all that manageable. Both are more likely to face a years-long adjustment before they’re ready to become reliable contributors.
And yet UNC might be forced to rely upon both, before their time. Now, at least, the Tar Heels have more help. Brooks, like Huffman and Manley, is not considered a top-100 prospect. He is the No. 128 prospect in the class of 2017, according to 247Sports.com’s composite ranking. (By comparison Brice Johnson arrived at UNC the No. 45 prospect in his class, and Kennedy Meeks No. 58.)
In addition to Bradley’s decision, UNC is waiting on others, too. Joel Berry, the junior point guard, has not yet announced whether he’ll return for his senior season, or enter the NBA draft. And UNC is waiting, like Duke, Kentucky, Missouri and Florida State, for Kevin Knox’s decision. Knox, one of the top uncommitted prospects in the country, is expected to announce his decision in early May.
In a more talent-rich season in UNC’s frontcourt, little might have been expected out of Brooks during his freshman year. Even if Bradley returns, though, Brooks now finds himself in position to play a significant role immediately. The Tar Heels are sure to need his contributions, with or without Bradley, whose deadline to declare for the NBA draft arrives on Sunday.